New taxi drivers face having to prove they can speak English in a council crackdown on cabbies’ language skills.
Newcastle Borough Council wants applicants to provide an English language certificate to prove they can ‘communicate with customers effectively’.
It is part of council plans to create an in-house ‘knowledge’ test to make sure drivers know the rules of the road, understand the law around disability and taxi legislation, and complete child-sex exploitation training every three years.
Existing rules require drivers to hold a Btec qualification, although this has no English language requirement. The new in-house test would also include a written English test.
Members of the authority’s licensing and public protection committee this week backed the plan which will now be subject to a 12-week consultation.
The council report states: “The English speaking requirement is to ensure that drivers can communicate with customers effectively, pass the requisite qualifications and understand the training being provided to them.”
Councillor Tony Kearon has supported the shake-up – but questioned whether it goes far enough.
He said: “In terms of the English speaking requirement it seems like we’re still dealing with a situation where drivers are appearing in front of the council committee with interpreters or saying they breached licensing because they don’t understand the requirements.
“Will there be the expectation for drivers who have English as a second language that they will have a face-to-face interview with council staff? Written evidence can come from anyone.”
The council will accept certificates from English as a Second Language (ESOL) or the Secure English Language Test (SELT).
Council officer Matthew Burton said: “If the applicant cannot converse to a satisfactory standard we will ask them to attend and pass an English course.”
But cabbies are sceptical about the changes – and blame the council for de-regulating taxi licences.
Newcastle and Kidsgrove Taxi Drivers’ Association vice-chairman Bashir Choudahry said: “Five or six years ago there were only 50 taxi drivers in the area – and now there are 250 cars and no increased demand.
“The council did not listen to us and now there are so many taxi licences out there it is unbelievable.
“They should put a freeze on taxi licences and if a driver leaves the trade then don’t replace them.
“Drivers are struggling to get work and waiting two hours for a job that’s worth £2.50. There are also drivers ripping off customers and the council needs to sort it out.”